Sen McGlinn's blog

                                  Reflections on the Bahai teachings

Science and religion

This is something I posted on Talisman9 in 2001, under the heading of ‘organicism.’ The question was:

> You seem to be saying the “science” and “religion” are names
> and/or attributes of God. This is a very interesting thought.
> Please tell me where you have read this (source). Or is it your
> own personal understanding?

That’s a formidable question, because it means exploring the
relationship between the names & attributes of God and human
institutions in general. First of all, lets look briefly at the
concept of emanation. The whole universe, as it is described in the
Baha’i Writings, is ordered by the emanation of attributes or names
of God, which are also called the ‘realities’ or ‘essences’ of
things, each of which is manifest in various appropriate forms in
different levels of existence.

Upon the inmost reality of each and every created thing He hath
shed the light of one of His names, and made it a recipient of
the glory of one of His attributes. (Gleanings, page 65)

Whatever is in the heavens and whatever is on the earth is a
direct evidence of the revelation within it of the attributes and
names of God, inasmuch as within every atom are enshrined the signs
that bear eloquent testimony to the revelation of that Most Great
Light. (Gleanings, page 177)

From that which hath been said it becometh evident that all
things, in their inmost reality, testify to the revelation of the
names and attributes of God within them …”No thing have I perceived,
except that I perceived God within it, God before it, or God after
it.” (Gleanings, page 178)

Moreover, there are ‘necessary relations’ between these realities,
and therefore necessary relationships between the social and
institutional forms which they take.

Know that the order and the perfection of the whole universe
require that existence should appear in numberless forms. For
existing beings could not be embodied in only one degree, one
station, one kind, one species and one class; undoubtedly, the
difference of degrees and distinction of forms, and the variety
of genus and species, are necessary … For example, if this
tree were entirely frui t, the vegetable perfections could not be
attained; for leaves, blossoms and fruits are all necessary so that
the tree may be adorned with utmost beauty and perfection. In the same
way consider the body of man. It must be composed of different
organs, parts and members. … (Some Answered Questions, page 129)

Religion, then, is the necessary connection which emanates from
the reality of things; and as the supreme Manifestations of God
are aware of the mysteries of beings, therefore, They understand
this essential connection, and by this knowledge establish the
Law of God. (Some Answered Questions, page 159)

This, incidentally, is another argument for deducing that the names
and attributes are ontologically distinct, rather than points on a
scale or differences arising only because of the limitations of our
perception. If the names and attributes are not truly distinct, how
could ‘Abdu’l-Baha talk about “those inherent properties and
necessary relations derived from the realities of things.” (Tablet to
August Forel
, page 13)? The ‘necessary relations’ prove the reality of the
distinctions between the spiritual realities. This model of inter-related
but distinct spiritual realities underlying the universe lends itself to a
rich metaphorical language, and we have to use poetic and theological
language to answer an apparently simple question such as you have asked.

In this language, the attributes or names of God are said to emanate
from the Godhead through successive levels of realisation in much the same
way as ‘ideas’, in platonic philosophy, exist first in the world of forms
and are realised, to a greater or lesser degree, in the material world. A
single attribute, shining as it were from the Godhead through the worlds
of God, is refracted from the di verse realities in forms and colours
which differ, but in which we can recognise a certain family resemblance.
The universe might be likened to a wonderful structure of prisms, lenses
and mirrors, in which white light enters from one source and is refracted
and differentiated as it passes through the mechanism, to produce new
wonders as it lights on those jewels and noble metals – the individual
ities of things – which lie waiting, needing only the touch of light to
manifest their potential. To think in this way, we do not need to arrange
the various levels through which the lights emanate i n a precise system,
like a geography of angelic worlds. Rather it is necessary to become poets
and visionaries, to consider these prisms and jewels as if mounted on an
intricate music-box, observe th e fingers of power set it in motion, and
see the rays flashing from prism to prism as all begin to revolve. To
imagine the music of the spheres. This is intended to be a working model,
a tool for thi nking with, not an archaic collection from the archives of
scholastic platonism. Nevertheless, if your are interested in the names of
the various realms (Hahut. Lakut, Malakut etc.) and how the attri butes
emanate through them, you could look at Juan Cole’s article on ‘The
Concept of Manifestation” in one of the early Baha’i Studies notebooks I

Now if we’ve established the language, I want to concentrate on
various aspects of the human world, differentiating the manifestation of
attributes in the individual character, in social activities and in
institutional and concrete forms. If as we have seen things can manifest
attributes of God, and the human person is uniquely able to manifest all
of the attributes, it is not surprising if human acts also manifest those

Tell the rich of the midnight sighing of the poor, … To give
and to be generous are attributes of Mine; well is it with him
that adorneth himself with My virtues. (Persian Hidden Words,
page 49)

From acts to institutions is only a logical development. There seems
to be a drive for the inward realities of institutions to
successively manifest themselves, from individual potential to full
real isation in distinct outward forms:

In reality, the radiant, pure hearts are the Mashrak-el-Azcar
and from them the voice of supplication and invocation
continually reacheth the Supreme Concourse. I ask God to make
the heart of every one of you a temple of the Divine Temples and
to let the lamp of the great guidance be lighted therein; and
when the hearts find such an attainment, they will ce rtainly
exert the utmost endeavor and energy in the building of the
Mashrak-el-Azcar; thus may the outward express the inward, and
the form (or letter) indicate the meaning (or reality). (Tablets of
`Abdu’l-Baha Abbas, p. 678)

`Abdu’l-Baha speaks here of one reality, realised first in the form
of the radiant, pure hearts which turn to God, and then and because
of that, in the building of the Mashriqu’l-Adhkar. Inner realities
are driven to find outward expression. As `Abdu’l-Baha says, “No
atom is bereft or deprived of this opportunity or right of
expression.” (Promulgation of Universal Peace page 285). The impulse
which drives realities to be manifest in every possible level may be
considered as the fundamental force in the Baha’i cosmology, since it
seems to be a reflection of the motivation of creation itself, according
to the hadith “I [God] was a hidden treasure, and desired to be known.”
Now this relationship between the names and attributes
and human institutions (in their ideal forms) is evident in other
Baha’i institutions (hence the distinct methods of operation of the
rulers and learned, of the Feast and the Assembly, the Huquq and the
Fund, etc..) but is not limited to them. All human acts
potentially manifest attributes of God, so all human institutions
potentially fal l under the shadow of one of the names and attributes of
God. One of the attributes is sovereignty or kingship. The kings are
called “manifestations of the power, and the daysprings of the might and
riches, of God.” (Tablets of Baha’u’llah, p. 220). The rulers and kings
of the earth, together, are called “the symbols of the power of God”,
(Gleanings, p. 218) “the mirrors of the gracious and almighty name of
God.” (Proclamation of Baha’u’llah, p. 115, and elsewhere). Monarchs in
fact form a special case of the general principle that the authority of
government is a token of the authority of God. Baha’u’llah wrote:

“Although a republican form of government profiteth all the
peoples of the world, yet the majesty of kingship is one of the
*signs* of God. We do not wish that the countries of the world
should remai n deprived thereof.” (Tablets of Baha’u’llah, p.

This shows clearly that there is — or is intended to be — a
relationship between platonic ideas and very real human
institutions: Baha’u’llah goes on to recommend a constitutional
solution based on what are essentially metaphysical considerations.
(It is quite right to say that a proper metaphysics must underlay
any attempt to expound the Baha’i teachings on science and religion,
but a proper metaphysics is a prerequisite before attempting the
equality of the sexes, or the development of the institutions, or
any of the other difficult questions.)
Another human project which
can be directly traced to a particular attribute is the arts:

One of the names of God is the Fashioner. He loveth
craftsmanship. Therefore any of His servants who manifesteth this
attribute is acceptable in the sight of this Wronged One. (The Arts,
page 1)

That I suppose answers your question about the relationship between
science and religion as human projects and the names and attributes
of God. Yes, it is my own opinion, and yes, it is more or less based on
the Writings. You will have to evaluate that ‘more or less’ for yourself
and come to your own understanding. If there’s anything in this
relationship between distinct human projects and distinct attributes of
God, it means that the harmony of science and religion must be based on,
built upon, their differences, i.e., acknowledging the distinct modes of
operation which are proper to each. Each of the organs needs the other,
and neither can absorb the other.

Between them is a barrier which they overpass not. Which then
of the bounties of your Lord will ye deny? From each He bringeth
up greater and lesser pearls.

Glory be unto Him who hath produced growth in the adjoining
fields of various natures!
Glory be unto Him who irrigated them
with the same waters gushing forth from that Fountain! (Tablets
of ‘Abdu’l-Baha, p 398.)

What is needed then is not a new paradigm of science which will
somehow incorporate truth claims and revelation, but a new paradigm
of faith which will allow science to be what it is, and a paradigm
of unity (organic unity) which does not in any way sacrifice the
individuality of things for the sake of unity. I
think it may be the unique contribution of the Baha’i revelation to
provide these new paradigms, but would expect that it will be
another few generations, maybe a century, before the Baha’i
community ceases to examine its own religion through paradigms of
‘religion’ (or faith, or belief) inherited from the past.

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